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Sundance 2022 Review: My Old School – “A light, fun watch with some absolutely jaw-dropping moments of absurdity”

Alan Cumming appears in My Old School by Jono McLeod, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

If you lived in Scotland in the mid 90’s there was probably no escaping this story, the story of Brandon Lee.  No, not that Brandon Lee, famed son of Bruce Lee who tragically died during production of The Crow, though oddly he does come into the picture a little bit.  The Brandon Lee that is at the centre of My Old School is a much different person, and a person with a lot of secrets.  For those of you unfamiliar with this story, I am going to try my best not to spoil things for you, but know this documentary unfolds a tale unlike anything you’ve heard.

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“The man at the heart of this story doesn’t want to show his face.  But you will hear his voice,” the beginning of the film states.  It’s for this reason that you see a lot of actor Alan Cumming, a man who was, 25 years ago, actually trying to get a fictionalized version of this story off the ground.  As many films go, that didn’t take off, but Cumming now returns to portray Lee in this documentary, ably lip-syncing the audio from interviews with him.  It’s at first a strange device, but incredibly clever in order to give the subject of this film added emotional depth and facial expression.  And Cumming, as one might predict is incredibly good at it.

What director Jono McLeod may not have been able to predict are how incredibly charismatic, charming, and funny his other interviewees might have been.  My Old School takes place at the Bearsden Academy, a secondary school in a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland.  It was here in 1993, that Brandon Lee arrived as a late addition to the class after having immigrated to the country from Canada due to family tragedy.  It was quite a memorable introduction as all his classmates remember.  They all have stories about Brandon – some capturing his incredible intelligence as he helped them study, others remembering how he was teased or taunted.  As there’s not much footage from those days, their stories are played out in playful animation, in the style of the 90’s TV show Daria, an appropriate approach for the timeframe of this story.  The former classmates are often interviewed in pairs, bouncing memories and banter off of one another like they just saw each other yesterday.  The memories of their high school days are clear as day.  To them.

And this is where McLeod’s documentary takes another interesting turn.  For after the big climactic reveal of Brandon Lee, we relive some of these memories with the actual facts at hand.  After so many years it’s interesting how the memories so clear to us become less accurate.  We become our own most unreliable narrators, based on what we want to believe; little details trickling away over the years, blurring the facts until our own recollections are perhaps more fiction.  My Old School may not have set out to tell that part of the story, but it is a fascinating addition.

Overall, with its creative storytelling and likeable storytellers, My Old School is a light, fun watch with some absolutely jaw-dropping moments of absurdity.  It’s a story so convoluted that it confuses even those that lived through it.  That said, McLeod does a good job at teasing out the truth and keeping the details straight.  At its end, My Old School, is simply proof that sometimes you need to trust your intuition and question things that don’t seem quite right.  Sometimes it’s possible to hide, right in plain sight, especially if you are Brandon Lee.

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